Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Sponsor-jumping and method-jumping

The stated aim of the programme is to enable us to find a power greater than ourselves that can solve our problem.

In practice, this means dying to self and surrendering to God. Once that process is well underway, work is required in the moment (the steering of the car), daily (filling the vehicle with petrol, refilling other reservoirs, and giving the thing a good old clean, in and out), and periodically (taking the vehicle in for a service). Some people believe, foolishly, that good daily maintenance will mean that nothing ever goes wrong in the engine. No; as with a car, measures are required at all three levels. All other areas of human endeavour reflect this three-pronged approach, not least any spiritual tradition worth its salt.

The question when regarding the periodic servicing is this: what method do we use? Some people say they want a new experience. That is all very well. But how is that new experience to be achieved?

One belief is that using the same old method is a bad idea, because if it worked so well, why does it need to be tried again? And furthermore, won't it ultimately fail, in the same way that a joke retold endlessly will fail to cheer, or a pair of jeans will ultimately fall apart if worn for too long?

The result of this thinking is usually one of two decisions: the hunt for a new sponsor (with 'new information') or the hunt for a new method (a new approach to the Steps; a new way of using the Big Book, which is what contains the basic instructions).

There are certainly situations in which one's current spiritual advisor or sponsor proves inadequate and in which a new one is required. Inadequacy, however, is a function not of the length of time one has had them as a sponsor, as though one somehow wears them out, but of whether they themselves are making spiritual progress and are a better example of surrender to God than you. All other things being equal, the main valid reasons for switching sponsors are (a) they lack (and therefore have always lacked) a solid understanding of the process of the Twelve Steps, (b) you have overtaken them spiritually or what they have, spiritually, you do not want, (c) they have backslid or drifted and are no longer fit to sponsor, (d) you substantially fail to identify with their human failings, or vice versa (or simply no longer much care for them). A good deal of thought must go into the process, because much self-centred rationalisation can underpin what appears to be a sound decision under (a) to (d) above. Counsel might well be sought, also.

The danger of switching sponsor, or indeed method of going through the Big Book (there's always a new method popping up here and there, which gradually comes into vogue, and then drifts back into obscurity), is that it is missing the point: you cannot wear out the instructions and you cannot wear out a sponsor in the way that a joke wears thin, jeans wear out, or, to bring in an image from another book, the salt loses its savour.

The last image is an interesting one, because salt cannot lose its savour: its savour is inherent in its essence. Salt can lose its savour only by ceasing to be salt, which cannot happen. Salt cannot become potash, mercury, or lye. Humans can indeed obscure their divine essence but they cannot eliminate it, because it is inherent. We cannot become un-human.

The subject matter of the Steps is that which obscures the divine in us and which is causing us practically to proceed in a direction other than the magnetic north of our moral compass. The subject matter is not the Big Book. The subject matter is not what is coming down the tubes from our sponsors (although that will indeed be superior if they are further ahead on the spiritual path). The subject matter is us. What we need is a mirror. If the mirror is a good one (and the Twelve Steps set out in the Big Book are a perfectly good mirror), then the mirror will do its job. The purpose of the sponsor is to help us understand what we see in the mirror, to remind us of how we should be (which itself is a simple proposition: dead to self and surrendered to God), and to be the human companion with whom we have united purpose. We cannot easily approach God without others. It is the divine present in another person whose humanity simultaneously we identify with that provides the bridge.

The hunt for the latest special method is the hunt, essentially, for a new frame for the mirror. The mirror is not the point. You are the point. And the same mirror, used a thousand times, will never wear out.

I reuse the same Twelve Steps from the same Book; I have had the same sponsor for years, now, and, in opposition to the rules of the material world (which often are opposite to those of the world of the spirit), I have worn neither out.

When I believe I have, I am always mistaken.

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